Journeyman Cardullo eyes 1st Opening Day job

29-year-old rookie, who made MLB debut in '16, hoping to break camp with Rox

Journeyman Cardullo eyes 1st Opening Day job

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Cast aside by the Arizona Diamondbacks organization in 2012, Stephen Cardullo spent four years in the place where many baseball dreams have gone to die.

Independent baseball.

However, Cardullo put up impressive enough numbers to earn another shot in affiliated baseball. He made his MLB debut last season with the Colorado Rockies, and he now has a chance to be on an Opening Day roster in the big leagues for the first time.

It is, to say the least, an unlikely story.

Goldy, Cardullo find resemblance

"I still wanted to play, still wanted to keep that dream alive," said Cardullo, a 29-year-old who is still considered a rookie. "I knew independent was an opportunity to play, and I was fortunate enough to get put on a team."

Selected in the 24th round of the MLB Draft in 2010, Cardullo spent two years with Arizona's rookie-level Missoula Osprey team. He had a limited role in his first year, but posted solid stats in 2011, hitting 10 home runs in 61 games with a .288 batting average.

It wasn't enough to keep his job. The D-backs released him in March 2012.

"I was a little surprised," Cardullo said. "I had a good year in 2011, but they had a lot of talented players, younger players than me. It was unfortunate, but I didn't let it keep me down."

It wasn't easy to stay positive. Cardullo played for an independent team called the Rippers -- a team based in London, Ontario, Canada that was named for Jack the Ripper. The team ceased operations not long after Cardullo joined it. Players were offered a role on a traveling team called the Road Warriors.

Cardullo grimaced when asked about the team. It was his worst season statistically in which he had an everyday role, and it appeared to be his worst emotionally, too.

Cardullo declined to talk about it, preferring to reflect on his time from 2013-15 with the Rockland Boulders, an independent club in the Canadian-American Association.

"It was a first-class organization," he said. "The fan base was unbelievable."

Cardullo donates tickets to fans

Cardullo remembers the Boulders pushing their start time back 15 minutes so they could play his first MLB at-bat on the team's Jumbotron. He remains in touch with some of his old teammates, who text him good-luck messages.

Listed as an outfielder, third baseman and shortstop during that time, Cardullo credits Rockland with teaching him how to play multiple positions. He said those years also taught him how to act more professionally.

His statistics reflect the growth. Over his three years in Rockland, Cardullo's batting average improved from .267 to .298 and then to .331. In his final year, he hit nine home runs and knocked in 76 runs, winning the league's Most Valuable Player Award.

It helped Cardullo earn a Minor League contract from the Rockies. He hit .308, slammed 17 home runs and drove in 72 runs in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League in 2016.

Cardullo was called up to the Rox on Aug. 26 and started that evening. Five days later, he hit his first home run. On the back end of a doubleheader the same evening, he hit a grand slam. It was a great way to celebrate his 29th birthday.

"Hits are great. Grand slams are wonderful," he said. "It was such a special feeling, a special day."

Manager Bud Black, who was hired by the Rockies in November, likes what he's seen from Cardullo so far, calling him a "unique cat yearning to be a big leaguer."

"There's something to that, about the makeup of a player who hangs in there and gets an opportunity," Black said. "[It] tells you a lot about that guy."

Logan Newman is a senior majoring in journalism at Arizona State University. This story is part of a Cactus League partnership between MLB.com and ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.